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Giants Among Men
Frank Deford
August 25, 2003
Exactly 100 years ago, Christy Mathewson and John McGraw rescued the woeful New York Giants and helped make baseball the true national pastime
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August 25, 2003

Giants Among Men

Exactly 100 years ago, Christy Mathewson and John McGraw rescued the woeful New York Giants and helped make baseball the true national pastime

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"That's what you'll get," Muggsy bellowed back. Oh, he was ready for this one, all right. He had Matty officiating, didn't he? And even though the Giants could manage only two runs, they were enough for what the Sun called "that professor of occult speed and pretzel curves." It took Mathewson just 95 minutes to construct his third shutout. In his 27 innings, he gave up only 14 hits and but one base on balls, while striking out 18. Even Mathewson himself thought this Series was his best performance ever.

The crowd poured onto the field, carrying players out to the centerfield pavilion. Some of the Giants tossed their caps and mitts to the faithful. And wait, who came out now to greet them but Bresnahan and...yes, Matty himself. Not only that, but the battery mates unfurled a banner: THE GIANTS, WORLD'S CHAMPIONS, 1905.

And when the crowd read those words, it let loose with what the Times described as a "deafening, reverberating roar" that "lifted Manhattan's soil from its base." Why, this was Gotham's secular first communion. If not already the first city of the world, it would pass London and Paris soon enough. Anyway, it was already a depot of dreams. A million or more immigrants disembarked there each year. A New Yorker, as exuberant as his city—"Bully!"—ran the country. And now New York was, too, champion of the national pastime.

No U.S. city had ever been so polyglot: 3.5 million people of every stripe, a third of them foreign-born. What could bind them together? Well, baseball was as good a mucilage as any. After all, baseball was strictly American, and now the great American city had great champions, and everybody could identify with the Giants. Whoever he was, wherever he came from, any American could admire McGraw, and any American could want to be Mathewson.

And there Big Six is now, holding up the victory banner, holding court. Matty did not gloat, for that was not his way, even as the cheers continued to roll up to him and then to the heavens above. Only one more Giant took a curtain call—McGraw, emerging to address his fond crowd. As befits a Napoleon, his speech was courtly. "Ladies and gentlemen," Muggsy proclaimed solemnly, "I appreciate the great victory as well as you. I thank you for your patronage and hope to see you all next spring."

And so he would. But who could have imagined that it would never again be the same for Matt and Muggsy as it was on this most glorious of all Baking Days.

In a broadly 'religious sense,' Mathewson epitomized humanity as it was created in the Garden of Eden. He lived and played in a 'garden paradise,' a pure specimen of the ideal ballplayer and created being.
—DONALD HONIG, BASEBALL AMERICA

A century on, McGraw and Mathewson are still with us, templates of two sustaining American sports archetypes. Muggsy: the earthy scuffler, an odd duck, unrepentant, but who—surprise!—is inspiring and brilliant. McGraw "could take kids out of coal mines and wheat fields," Heywood Broun wrote, "and make them play ball with the look of eagles." His heirs are many: George Halas, Casey Stengel, Red Auerbach, Leo Durocher, Vince Lombardi, Bear Bryant, Earl Weaver, Billy Martin, Scotty Bowman, Bill Parcells, Bob Knight.

Mathewson is easier to portray: the solid gentleman athlete, wise and spiritual, fair to a fault. A story, perhaps apocryphal, has Mathewson sliding home in a cloud of dust. "Were you safe, Matty?" the umpire asks.

"No, he got me."

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